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R Formosa, J Borg and J Vassallo

Pituitary adenomas (PA) represent the largest group of intracranial neoplasms and yet the molecular mechanisms driving this disease remain largely unknown. The aim of this study was to use a high-throughput screening method to identify molecular pathways that may be playing a significant and consistent role in PA. RNA profiling using microarrays on eight local PAs identified the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) signalling pathway as a key canonical pathway downregulated in all PA types. This was confirmed by real-time PCR in 31 tumours. The AHR has been shown to regulate cell cycle progression in various cell types; however, its role in pituitary tissue has never been investigated. In order to validate the role of AHR in PA behaviour, further functional studies were undertaken. Over-expression of AHR in GH3 cells revealed a tumour suppressor potential independent of exogenous ligand activation by benzo α-pyrene (BαP). Cell cycle analysis and quantitative PCR of cell cycle regulator genes revealed that both unstimulated and BαP-stimulated AHR reduced E2F-driven transcription and altered expression of cell cycle regulator genes, thus increasing the percentage of cells in G0/G1 phase and slowing the proliferation rate of GH3 cells. Co-immunoprecipitation confirmed the interaction between AHR and retinoblastoma (Rb1) protein supporting this as a functional mechanism for the observed reduction. Endogenous Ahr reduction using silencing RNA confirmed the tumour suppressive function of the Ahr. These data support a mechanistic pathway for the putative tumour suppressive role of AHR specifically in PA, possibly through its role as a cell cycle co-regulator, even in the absence of exogenous ligands.

Free access

R Formosa, A Xuereb-Anastasi and J Vassallo

Mutations in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor-interacting protein (AIP) gene have been linked to predisposition to pituitary adenomas. However, the mechanism by which this occurs remains unknown. AIP interacts with a number of interesting proteins, including members of the cAMP signalling pathway that has been shown to be consistently altered in pituitary tumours. The functional role of Aip was investigated using both over-expression and knock down of Aip in GH3 cells. cAMP signalling and its downstream effectors, including GH secretion, were then investigated. cAMP signalling was analysed using cAMP assays, cAMP-response element-promoter luciferase reporter assays, real-time PCR and finally secreted GH quantification. Over-expression of wild-type (WT)-Aip reduced forskolin-induced cAMP signalling at the total cAMP level, luciferase reporter activity and target gene expression, when compared with empty vector and the non-functional R304X mutant. Additionally, GH secretion was reduced in WT-Aip over-expressing GH3 cells treated with forskolin. Knock down of endogenous Aip resulted in increased cAMP signalling but a decrease in GH secretion was also noted. Inhibition of phosphodiesterase activity using general and selective inhibitors did not completely ablate the effect of Aip on forskolin-augmented cAMP signalling. A mechanism by which Aip acts as a tumour suppressor, by maintaining a low cAMP signalling and concentration, is suggested. Mutations of Aip render the protein incapable of such activity. This effect appears not to be mediated by the AIP–PDE interaction, suggesting the involvement of other interacting partners in mediating this outcome.